Stolen base

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A stolen base, often abbreviated SB, occurs when a baserunner advances to the next base without the ball having been hit into play or a fielding error. Stolen bases are awarded at the discretion of the official scorer

Typically a stolen base is the result of the runner running to the next base simultaneously with the pitch being thrown and reaching it before being tagged by the ball thrown by the catcher to the base the runner is trying to reach. A stolen base can also occur while the catcher is relaying the ball back to the pitcher (this is called a delayed steal), or when a pick-off is attempted.

A baserunner can only attempt to steal an unoccupied base, unless there is a double steal. If the runner fails in his attempt, it is a caught stealing. In situations wherein the opposing team does not attempt to catch a baserunner stealing, then the official scorer may not award the baserunner with a stolen base, and instead the advanced base is scored as defensive indifference. This only occurs when the runner represents an otherwise meaningless run and the defense makes absolutely no effort at holding him close to his base or at throwing him out; if he simply surprises the defense and catches it napping, advancing to the next base without a throw, he is awarded a stolen base.

A number of factors have an impact on whether a stolen base attempt will be successful: the speed of the runner, the quality of his jump from the base, the strength of the catcher's arm, and the speed of the pitcher's motion to home plate. It is easier to steal on a breaking ball than on a fastball. If the defensive team expects that a runner will attempt to steal, it can reply by either attempting a pick-off play, or by calling for a pitch-out (a strategy that has almost disappeared from the modern game).

As a strategy, the stolen base has risen and fallen in popularity over the years. It was a major part of the game in the Deadball Era, fell out of favor from the 1920s until the 1950s, then enjoyed its heyday from the 1960s to the late 1980s. With the offensive explosion of the 1990s, and sabermetric research indicating that it is only a useful strategy when the success rate is higher than two-thirds, the stolen base again fell into disfavor. It is typically used more often in a low run-scoring environment and is considered a small ball tactic. It is however a spectacular play that is much enjoyed by fans, and Major League Baseball made rule changes to increase its frequency; rules first introduced in the minor leagues, such as using larger bases and a strict pitch clock and limiting pick-off attempts, all work to encourage the running game. These changes were introduced at the major league level for the 2023 season, with an immediate effect on the number of stolen base attempts.

It should be noted that the stolen base is one of a number of concepts whose definition took a number of decades to reach its current form. In the 19th century, most notably between 1892 and 1897, when a stolen base was credited to runners advancing an extra base on a base hit or a fly out. Stolen bases from that period must therefore be considered with this in mind. The current rule has basically been in place since 1909, with only minor tweaks since. For example, on an unsuccessful double steal attempt, the second runner was credited with a stolen base until 1910, and until 1950 a runner was credited with a steal after reaching the next base successfully, but oversliding past it and being tagged out; since that time, this has been considered to be a simple caught stealing.

A Sports Illustrated article named what its author thought were the ten most famous steals of all time, with #1 being Jackie Robinson's steal of home in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series, off pitcher Whitey Ford and catcher Yogi Berra. [1]

All Time Leaders 
Span Player Total Notes
Career Rickey Henderson 1406  
Season Rickey Henderson 130 1982
Game George Gore 7 June 25, 1881
Game Billy Hamilton 7 August 31, 1894
Negro league Career Oscar Charleston 182  
Minor league Career George Hogreiver 947  
Minor league Season Billy Hamilton 155 2012
NPB Career Yutaka Fukumoto 1065  
NPB Season Yutaka Fukumoto 106 1972
CPBL Season Bernie Tatis 71 1997
AAGPBL Career Sophie Kurys 1114  
AAGPBL Season Sophie Kurys 201 1946
AAGPBL Game Shirley Jameson 7 July 2, 1944
AAGPBL Game Lois Florreich 7 July 2, 1944
AAGPBL Game Shirley Jameson 7 July 24, 1944
AAGPBL Game Betsy Jochum 7 August 2, 1944
AAGPBL Game Sophie Kurys 7 September 3, 1944
AAGPBL Game Maddy English 7 May 21, 1947

Further Reading[edit]

  • Anthony Castrovince: "How the pitch clock can revive the stolen base",, June 15, 2022. [2]
  • Thomas Harrigan: "This is each position's stolen-base leader",, June 6, 2020. [3]
  • John McMurray: "Examining Stolen Base Trends by Decade from the Deadball ERA through the 1970s", The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 44, Number 2 (Fall 2015), pp. 25-31.
  • Pete Palmer: "Stolen Bases and Caught Stealing by Catchers: Updating Total Player Rating", The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 43, Number 1 (spring 2014), pp. 23-25.
  • Mike Petriello: "You'll never look at stolen bases the same way again: New Statcast metric breaks down what really makes for a swipe",, April 26, 2023. [4]